Here is a non-comprehensive list of LGBTQIA+ terminology that you may come across when interacting with individuals in the community. This list is "non-comprehensive" because language within the community is fluid and often changing.
If you see or hear a term not in the glossary:
- Search it - the Internet is our friend!
- Ask the individual what that term means for them and their identity - Two people might use the same term (i.e. bisexual), but define it differently (i.e. "I like men and women," v. "I like all people, I just use bisexual because it's more commonly known and I have to explain it less.")
The glossary is divided into sections.
- Terms for All Identities: Here you will find terms that can apply to any identity. We have also included basic social justice terminology.
- Sex and Gender: Here you will find terms that apply to our understanding of sex and gender.
- Sexual Orientation: Here you will find terms that apply to our understanding of sexual orientations (e.g., "Gay").
Each section has subheadings to help you navigate:
- General - terms needed to talk about and explain identities.
- Identities - descriptions of identities that fall under that section.
- Experience-Related Terminology - terms that help explain some aspects of having an identity in that category.
Terms for All Identities
Discrimination - differential treatment that favors one individual or group over another based on prejudice.
Institutional Oppression - Societial processes and expectations that benefit one group at the expense of another through the use of language, media, education, religion, economics, etc.
Internalized Oppression - The process by which a member of an oppressed group comes to accept and live out the inaccurate stereotypes applied to the oppressed group.
Oppression - the systematic exploitation of social groups by another for its own benefit. It involves institutional control, ideological domination, and the promulgation of the dominant group's culture on the oppressed. Oppression = Prejudice + Power.
Prejudice - A conscious or unconscious negative belief about a whole group of people and its individual members.
Stereotype - A preconceived or oversimplified generalization about an entire group of people without regard for their individual differences. Though often negative, can also be complimentary. Even positive stereotypes can have a negative impact, however, simply because they involve broad generalizations that ignore individual realities.
Ally - a person who supports and honors LGBTQIA+ diversity, acts accordingly to challenge homophobic/transphobic and heterosexist/cisgender centric remarks and behaviors, and is willing to explore and understand these forms of bias within themselves.
Closet - being "in the closet" means keeping your gender identity and/or sexual orientation a secret. Many LGTBQIA+ people remain in the closet because of fear of rejection, harassment, and anti-gay violence. Many LGBTQIA+ people find that being in the closet can be an isolated, confining experience.
Coming Out - the developmental process in which a person acknowledges, accepts, and appreciates their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Coming out is a lifelong process, starting with coming out to oneself and then to others.
Outing - exposing someone's gender identity and/or sexual orientation to others, usually without their permission.
Partner - gender-inclusive term for someone with whom one is involved, usually in a primary relationship. Avoids assumption of gender identity or sexual orientation. Also, a person's partner in marriage, life, dating. Can be used by all couples regardless of identities.
Passing - a person's ability to be percieved as a dominant gender/sex or sexual orientation that they might not hold (i.e. a trans woman who one would not question being trans)
Queer - 1: an umbrella term to describe individuals who don't identify as straight and/or cisgender. Individuals who identify as queer might or might not begin using a different term at a later date.
2: a slur used to refer to someone who isn't straight and/or cisgender. Due to its historical use as a derogatory term, and how it is still used as a slur many communities, it is not embraced or used by all LGBTQ people.
3: Often be use interchangeably with LGBTQ (e.g., "queer people" instead of "LGBTQ people").
Questioning - The process of exploring one's own gender identity, gender expression, and/or sexual orientation. Some folks may also use this term to name their identity within the LGBTQIA community.
Sex & Gender
Gender - a social construct defining the collection of characteristics that are culturally associated with masculinity or femininity; gender is to "masculine" and "feminine" as sex is to "male" and "female."
Gender Binary - The idea that there are only two genders - male/female or man/woman and that a person must be strictly gendered as either/or. (See also 'Identity Sphere.')
Gender Identity - the internal perception of an one's gender, and how they label themselves, based on how much they align or don't align with what they understand their options for gender to be. Often conflated with biological sex, or sex assigned at birth. Research indicates that gender identity is typically established by 3 years of age, however gender identity is fluid and can change throughout someone's lifetime.
Sex / Biological Sex - a medical term referring to the chromosomal, hormonal and anatomical characteristics that are used to classify an individual as female or male or intersex. Often referred to as simply "sex," "physical sex," "anatomical sex," or specifically as "sex assigned at birth."
Bigender/Trigender/Pangender: People who identify as two, three, or all genders. They may shift between these genders or be all of them at the same time.
Cisgender - /"siss-jendur"/ a gender description for when someone's sex assigned at birth and gender identity correspond in the expected way (e.g., someone who was assigned male at birth, and identifies as a man). A simple way to think about it is if a person is not transgender, they are cisgender. The word cisgender can also be shortened to "cis."
Drag King or Drag Queen - a woman or a man, respectively, who employ exaggerated gender-marked clothing, makeup, and mannerisms for their own and other people's appreciation or for entertainment.
Gender non-conforming: Not fully aligning to or fulfilling social expectations of gender, whether that be in terms of expression, roles, or performance.
Genderfluid: This term can be used as a specific identity or as a way of articulating the changing nature of one's gender identity or expression. People who are genderfluid may feel that their gender identity or expression is changeable.
Genderqueer - a term used by many trans-youth who do not identify as either male or female and who often seek to blur gender lines.
Intersex - term for a combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, and genitals that differs from the two expected patterns of male or female. Many visibly intersex people are given surguries by doctors at birth to make the individual's sex characteristics conform to a certain gender/sex alignment, often without their parents knowledge or consent. Intersex people are relatively common - moreso than redheads. Formerly known as hermaphrodite (or hermaphroditic), but these terms are now outdated and derogatory.
Non-binary: Non-binary people are those who identify as a gender that is neither man nor woman or who are not men or women exclusively. Non-binary can refer to a specific gender identity or it can function as an umbrella term which can include (though not always) people who are genderqueer, agender, bigender, and others. Often combined with "transgender/trans" as an umbrella term: T/NB - trans/nonbinary.
Transgender - Adjective used most often as an umbrella term. Frequently abbreviated to "trans". It describes a wide range of identities and experiences of people whose gender identity and/or expression differs from conventional expectations based on their assigned sex at birth. Not all trans people undergo medical transition (surgery or hormones). Some commonly held definitions: 1. Someone whose behavior or expression does not align their perceived gender, according to society. 2. A gender outside of the man/woman binary. 3. Having no gender or multiple genders. Subterms include:
- AMAB/MAAB: Assigned Male At Birth / Male Assigned At Birth, respectively. These terms refer to what gender someone was assigned at birth (in this case male, thus you are expected to be a boy/man). Many trans people use these as a way to talk about their gender identity without labeling their current identity.
- MTF - a male-to-female transgender person, or a trans(gender) woman. Some trans people reject this term, arguing that they have always been female and are only making that identity visible, or that it reinforces a binary view of gender. Often used to describe what gender confirmation surgeries one may have gone through.
- AFAB/FAAB: Assigned Female At Birth and Female Assigned At Birth respectively. These terms refer to what gender you were assigned at birth (in this case female, thus you are expected to be a girl/woman). Many trans people use these as a way to talk about their gender identity without labeling their current identity.
- FTM - a female-to-male transgender person, or a trans(gender) man. Some trans people reject this term, arguing that they have always been male and are only making that identity visible, or that it reinforces a binary view of gender. Often used to describe what gender confirmation surgeries one may have gone through.
Two Spirit - an umbrella term traditionally used within someNorth American Native and Indigenous communities to recognize individuals who possess qualities or fulfill roles of multiple genders, and are seen as being 'blessed by the Creator. It is important to note that being two spirit is not the same as being Gay, Lesbian, or Trans.
Cisgender Privilege: The privileges cisgender people have because their gender identities match their assigned gender and because they are considered "normal". For example, cisgender people don't have to worry about violence and institutionalized discrimination simply due to the fact they are cisgender.
Dead name - the birth or given name of someone who has changed it. Often used by trans people who go by their chosen name and do not want to refer to their former identity. It is not appropriate to ask someone what their deadname is. If you need to know if the name you know them as is their legal name, ask "Is "(insert name)" your legal name/the name used on legal documentation?" Also used as a verb when one uses the given name (i.e. "They deadnamed me.").
Doing Drag or Being In Drag - wearing clothing considered appropriate for someone of another gender. Drag also generally includes performing exaggerated aspects of the opposite gender.
Gender Confirmation Surgeries - Medical surgeries used to modify one's body to be more congruent with one's gender identity. Also known as sex-reassignment surguries, though this has fallen out of favor. Note: the plural is used intentionally, as many people ask "Have they had THE surgery," when there are in fact multiple surgeries involved.
Gender Oppression - The societal, institutional, and individual beliefs and practices that privilege cisgender (gender-typical people) and subordinate and disparage transgender people. Also known as "genderism."
Misgender: The act of attributing a person to a gender they do not identify as. (i.e. using an old name or pronouns).
Transition - This term is primarily used to refer to the process a person undergoes when changing their bodily appearance/expression either to be more congruent with the gender/sex they feel themselves to be and/or to be in harmony with their preferred gender expression. Not always a medical process - might simply involve a new name/pronouns/wardrobe, but can include hormone therapy and/or surgeries.
Transmisogyny: Originally coined by the author Julia Serano, this term highlights the intersectionality of misogyny and transphobia and how they are often experienced as a dual form of oppression by trans women and some other AMAB/MAAB/MTF trans people.
Transphobia - the fear and hatred of or discomfort with people who are transgender.
Emotional Attraction - a capacity that evokes the want to engage in emotionally intimate behavior (e.g., sharing, confiding, trusting, inter-depending), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none to intense). Often conflated with sexual attraction or romantic attraction.
Romantic Attraction - a capacity that evokes the want to engage in romantically intimate behavior (e.g., dating, relationships, marriage), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none, to intense). Often conflated with sexual attraction or emotional attraction - one can be romantically attracted to two or more identities (biromantic), but only experience sexual attraction for one of them (gay/lesbian or straight).
Sexual Attraction - a capacity that evokes the want to engage in physically intimate behavior (e.g., kissing, touching, intercourse), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none, to intense). Often conflated with romantic attraction, emotional attraction, and/or spiritual attraction.
Sexual Behavior - what a person does in terms of sexual acts. Describes actions, not an identity - a man might experiment with a another man, but this does not make him gay.
Sexual Orientation - the type of sexual, romantic, emotional/spiritual attraction one has the capacity to feel for some others, generally labeled based on the gender relationship between the person and the people they are attracted to. Often confused with sexual preference.
Sexual Preference - what a person likes or prefers to do sexually: a conscious recognition or choice not to be confused with sexual orientation. Often comes up in relation to bisexual identities: one might be attracted to men and women, but have a preference for one over the other.
Sexuality - the complex range of components that make us sexual beings: includes emotional, physical, and sexual aspects, as well as self-identification (including sexual orientation and gender), behavioral preferences and practices, fantasies, and feelings of affection and emotional affinity.
Aromantic /"ay-ro-man-tic"/ - experiencing little or no romantic attraction to others and/or has a lack of interest in romantic relationships/behavior. Aromanticism exists on a continuum from people who experience no romantic attraction or have any desire for romantic activities, to those who experience low levels, or romantic attraction only under specific conditions. Sometimes abbreviated to "aro" (pronounced like "arrow"). Someone who is aromantic might or might not desire sexual activity.
Asexual /"ay-sexual"/ - A sexual orientation generally characterized by not feeling sexual attraction or a desire for partnered sexuality. Asexuality is distinct from celibacy, which is the deliberate abstention from sexual activity. Some asexual people do have sex. There are many diverse ways of being asexual. Many of these different places on the continuum have their own identity labels (see demisexual). Someone who is asexual might or might not desire romantic activity.
Bicurious - A curiosity about having sexual relations with a same gender/sex person.
Biromantic /"bi-ro-man-tic"/ - experiencing romantic attraction to multiple other identities. Someone who is biromantic might be sexually attracted to the same identities they are romantically attracted to, or they might not.
Bisexual - A person whose primary sexual and affectional orientation is toward people of the same and other genders, or towards people regardless of their gender. Often used as an umbrella term for people who are attracted to more than one gender.
Bisexual Umbrella / Bi/Pan Umbrella - a category of identities that describe people who are attracted to more than one gender. Holds terms like bisexual, polysexual, pansexual, omnisexual, etc.
Demisexual - is a sexual orientation in which someone feels sexual attraction only to people with whom they have an emotional bond. Most demisexuals feel sexual attraction rarely compared to the general population, and some have little to no interest in sexual activity. Demisexuals are considered to be on the asexual spectrum, meaning they are closely aligned
Gay - was used commonly in previous generations to refer to all people who are LGBTQIA+. It is more commonly used to refer to gay men. This word has been used often as slang to make reference to something negative. The use of this word in this manner may be hurtful to sexual minorities and is not consistent with being an ally.
Gay Man - a man who is emotionally, romantically, sexually, affectionately, and relationally attracted to other men
Heterosexual/Straight - a person who is primarily or exclusively emotionally, romantically, sexually, affectionately, and relationally attracted to people of the "opposite" sex
Homosexual - An word used to describe a person who is primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex. The use of this term outside of a clinical setting has fallen out of favor, as it was a medical diagnosis when first introduced, and connotes an uncomfortablity.
Lesbian - a woman who is emotionally, romantically, sexually, affectionately, and relationally attracted to other women.
Pansexual, Omnisexual - Terms used to describe people who have romantic, sexual or affectional desire for people of all genders and sexes. Often put under the Bisexual Label (Bi-Umbrella or Bi/Pan Umbrella), as more people are familiar with the term "bisexual."
Biphobia - fear/hatred or discrimination against people who are bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, or nonmonosexual. This can present as comments like "When you get married, do you become gay/straight?" These comments may come from genuine curiosity or confusion, but contribute to a lack of understadning about the idenitity. A subset of this is Bi-erasure, or pretending that bisexuality is a "myth." This often comes from within the community as much as outside of it. For example, "One day, you'll realize you're actually just gay."
Double Discrimination - Refers to the prejudicial attitudes toward and discrimination against bisexual individuals from monosexual individuals (i.e., individuals who identify as being attracted to one gender). The term comes from the fact that bisexual individuals can face discrimination from TWO sources: heteronormative society as well as members of the queer community (e.g., lesbian and gay individuals). Closely related to bipohia and bi erasure.
Heterosexual Privilege - the basic civil rights and social privileges that a heterosexual person automatically receives that are systematically denied to gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons simply because of their sexual orientation. The assumption that all people are heterosexual.
Homophobia - the fear and hatred of or discomfort with people who love and sexually desire members of the same sex. Homophobic/transphobic reactions often lead to intolerance, bigotry, and violence against anyone not acting within heterosexual norms.
Heterocentrism - the assumption that everyone is heterosexual unless otherwise indicated. Labels heterosexuality to be a "norm" and all other identities to be outside of this "norm."
Heteronormativity - A set of lifestyle norms, practices, and institutions that promote binary alignment of biological sex, gender identity, and gender roles; assume heterosexuality as a fundamental and natural norm; and privilege monogamous, committed relationships and reproductive sex above all other sexual practices.
Heterosexism - The assumption that all people are or should be heterosexual. Heterosexism excludes the needs, concerns, and life experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer people while it gives advantages to heterosexual people. It is often a subtle form of oppression, which reinforces realities of silence and invisibility.
Straight-Acting - A term usually applied to gay men who readily pass as heterosexual. The term implies that there is a certain way that gay men act that is significantly different from heterosexual men. "Straight-acting" gay men are often looked down upon in the LGBTQ community for seemingly accessing heterosexual privilege.
Why Pronouns Matter
Why Should I Care About Pronouns?
Using pronouns to talk about somebody is the same as using a person's name. While you may not give much thought to your name, many people feel a strong sense of pride in their name. Some people are more comfortable with their first name instead of their middle name (or vice versa), others, a derivation of their name or a nickname. How somebody asks for you to refer to them is how people make space for themselves. Similarly, the pronouns with which someone identifies are how they feel valued and seen. We have been conditioned to assume gender based on what people look like, and that can result in harmful messages. Taking the time to learn and use someone's pronouns is a small gesture that makes a big difference!
Helpful Resource: Why Pronouns Matter for Trans People
Helpful Resource: Pronouns Matter - MyPronouns.org
Is it OK to Ask People's' Pronouns?
YES! YES! YES! In fact, this is a practice that we should all become more comfortable with. Asking for someone's pronouns shows that you are being thoughtful about the lived experience of whomever you are interacting with. Many people have never thought about their pronouns, and may not know how to respond when asked; that's OK! This is an opportunity to talk about what pronouns are, why they are important, and why it is important to ask for them! The best way to ask for someone's pronouns is to simply say something like "What pronouns do you use?" or "What are your pronouns?". If you are unsure of someone's pronouns, it is typically OK to use 'They/Them/Theirs'. An even safer way to refer to someone if you don't know their pronouns is by using their name! For example, "As Chris said...", "When I was talking to Heidi...", or "Did you know Alex's favorite band is...?"
Helpful Resource: Using and Asking for Pronouns
Should I Share my Pronouns Even if I'm Not Trans/Non-Binary?
Absolutely! You might have even reached this page from someone's email signature that included their pronouns, even though they might not be trans/non-binary, or even LGBTQIA+! Sharing your pronouns is a great way to challenge the norm that you can assume someone's pronouns, and to create space for everyone to share their pronouns, especially for trans, queer, and/or non-binary people. There are a variety of ways to do this; you can add pronouns to your email signature, put them on your nametag or door, add them to your profile on social media, and share them out loud when introducing yourself. If you are leading a group discussion, you can also ask that when each person introduces themself, they share their pronouns (as they are comfortable- we don't want to force anyone to out themselves!) We understand that sharing pronouns can be awkward at first, but want to assure you that, once you have done it a few times, it just becomes a part of how you introduce yourself!
What if I Misgender Someone?
Mistakes are bound to happen. We have been taught our whole lives to believe there are only two genders, and that we can tell what someone's gender is based on looking at them. It is OK to feel embarassed, confused, or apologetic for misgendering someone, but the important thing is to acknowledge your mistake and move on. You don't need to feel like you owe the person a tearful explanation of why you made the mistake; rather, a simple "I'm sorry, they..." in the moment will usually suffice. If you realize that you have been misgendering someone for a while, reaching out to them to acknowledge your mistake and apologizing is a great first step. Saying "I wanted to apologize for referring to you by the wrong pronouns. I know you use "she/her" pronouns and I will make sure to not make that mistake again." shows that you understand that you've made a mistake AND that you will actively take steps to correct it. It is important to note that people may respond different ways when they are misgendered. Some people will move on quickly, others may get upset. Whatever the response, being sincere in interacting with that person will help maintain the relationship.
Helpful Resource: What To Do (and Not Do) If You Misgender Someone
You Mean there are Other Pronouns Besides "He" and "She?"
YES! Multitudes! Most people are familiar with "He/Him/His" to refer to a man or boy, and "She/Her/Hers" to refer to a woman or girl, but there are so many other pronouns with which people identify! These pronouns have a variety of origins; some are revived from Old English, others have been created by literary works, and still others have been borrowed from other languages. One that people often struggle with is the singular 'They'. We are taught throughout schooling that 'They' can only be used to refer to a group of people, but that is simply not true! An easy way to understand how the singular 'They' is used is to think about a lost item. If you find an umbrella in a crowded room, someone will often stand up and ask "Did anyone lose their umbrella?".
Helpful Resource: Merriam Websiter Announces Singular "They" as 2019 Word of the Year
Helpful Resource: Merriam-Webster Dictionary - Singular 'They'
Helpful Resource: It's OK To Use "They" To Describe One Person: Here's Why
Helpful Resource: What Are Pronouns With Which People Identify?
What other Resources Should I Know About?
Academic Style Guides on the Singular Pronoun 'They' (Indiana University Bloomington, Gender Studies)
Glossary of LGBTQ+ Terms (University of California at Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center)
Gender Pronouns (Trans Student Educational Resources)
Neopronouns Explained (UNCG Office of Intercultural Engagement)
NOTE: We have bolded all of the times and all of the ways in which we used the singular 'They' on this page in an effort to show how commonplace our usage actually is. We hope this can serve as a tool to help you show others how often we use the singular 'They'.
Theis page was adapted from The Office of Intercultural Engagement at UNC Greensboro. Used with permission.